The World Disaster report – Highlights on the role of Satellites in disaster management

Source: IFRC // Mapping Climate Vulnerability & Fragility

IFRC’s World Disaster Report indicates that global efforts to tackle climate change have failed to protect the populations and communities who are most at risk of such vulnerabilities. In the November report, IFRC reports that none of the 20 most vulnerable countries to climate change & climate- and weather-related disasters were among the 20 highest per-person recipients of climate change adaptation funding. Somalia, which is the most vulnerable, ranked at 71 for per-person funding disbursements. Similarly, none of the countries with the five highest disbursements had high or very high vulnerability scores. At the other end of the spectrum, 38 out of 60 high vulnerability countries and 5 out of 8 very high vulnerability countries received less than $1 per person in climate adaptation funding, while two, the Central African Republic and Asia’s North Korea, received no disbursements at all.

There is a disconnection between the where climate risk is high and where climate adaptation funding goes. The IFRC notes that the findings are alarming given the steady increase in the number of climate and weather-related disasters, which have risen at 35% per decade since the 90s. In the past decade, IFRC reports that there were 2,850 disasters triggered by natural hazards, and at least 85%, of these, were climate and weather-related. The most frequent were floods at 1292, followed by storms at 589. Since 2010, the largest affected continents were; Asia by 1305 disasters, Africa at 622 disasters, and Americas at 620 disasters. Europe and Oceania recorded relatively lower disasters at 212 and 110 respectively.  From a longer-term, Asia was the most affected continent since the 1960s at 44 % of all disasters, while Africa accounted for 21% of all-natural disasters.

Floods Imagery

In 2019 there were 308 disasters triggered by natural hazards, affecting 97.6 million people. The most frequent were floods at 127, followed by storms at 59, disease outbreaks at 36 earthquakes at 32 and hydrological-related landslides at 25. Extreme temperature events recorded 10 outbreaks, while wildfires and droughts were less frequent each at 8, while volcanic activity was quite rare with only 3 significant events. In 2019, 77% of these disasters were triggered by climate- or weather-related hazards including storms, floods, droughts, wildfires, extreme temperature or landslides. The highest numbers of floods in 2019 were in Asia with 42 floods across 22 countries while Africa experienced 38 floods across 21 countries. The country most affected by floods was Iran with over 10 million people impacted followed by Malawi, 991,000 and Paraguay, with just over half a million people. Over the decade, IFRC estimates that the disasters contributed to 410,000 deaths, and directly affected 1.7 billion people in the process.

Africa Predictions

Source: Phys // Drought in Southern Africa

In Africa, it is predicted that flood hazards are likely to rise, particularly in the tropical parts of Africa, where Southern Africa is expected to be increasingly affected by wildfires and droughts. These hazards are likely to lead to increased exposure to vulnerable communities. The IFRC also predicts that there will be a higher number of people at risk from floods, in part due to population increases, from 850,000 people in 1970 to 3.6 million people in 2030. African populations will also be increasingly affected by extreme high temperatures, in some cases above physiological limits for thermal comfort. At the same time, populations are predicted to rise in highly exposed urban centres which have not undertaken adaptation measures for extreme heat. By regions, West, Southern, and East Africa are expected to experience higher heat waves. 


In the report, IFRC argues that the massive stimulus packages currently being developed around the world offer an opportunity to address and reduce climate vulnerability. The organization advises that smart financing, in addition to building resilience through green initiatives and climate-smart disaster risk management will play a major role in preventing disasters and protecting the most exposed communities. There is a risk that that humanitarian resources, which are already strained, due to the rising humanitarian needs, will be worsened by the COVID-19 crisis, putting even greater strain on systems and donors alike, and leaving the world unprepared for the rising risks of climate change. The IFRC recommends a new approach to help humanity prepare for the next global shock, climate change, while it is managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

IFRC recommends a number of disaster preparedness including; risk-informed development, climate change adaptation, climate-smart programming, and the adoption of early warning systems. While public administrations and communities have a role to play, it identifies a role for climate experts and recommends the use of climate-smart action to reduce the likelihood of disasters and the potential impacts of a hazard. Climate-smart programming is reported useful across all level of disaster management planning as it cuts across- the development of a disaster management program, disaster risk reduction planning, preparedness, anticipatory action, and the recovery of disasters.

Climate-Smart Programming

The report asserts that investment needs to be made to improve the accuracy of climate projections at national and subnational levels, as well as short-term forecasts, adding that the design of development of disaster plans and climate change adaptation interventions need to focus on improving the capacity of authorities and organizations to make use of daily and seasonal weather forecasts and climate projections over long periods of time in combination with other risk data and risk trends.

IFRC notes that a number of initiatives are attempting to bring different sectors and levels together to identify and address risks across time scales. Some humanitarian organizations are reportedly offering an important perspective and insight to the vulnerability and capacity of communities, given their experience humanitarian needs in emergencies, e.g. collaborative and coherent ways to share and use open-source data to inform programming. They include Humanitarian OpenStreetMap, the Missing Maps project, ThinkHazard developed by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, and the INFORM Risk Index led by the European Commission Joint Research Centre which also includes a new product being developed for early warning and early action.

Bringing Space-Based Information to the people

Source: NASA // East Africa Floods

The IFRC report notes that satellite images can reveal crucial details before, during, and after a disaster. The data can be in the type of populations affected or most at risk, damaged infrastructure, and safety areas that can be used to deliver humanitarian support.

The reports disclose that the UN Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER), a program operated by the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, is seeking to make critical satellite data available to disaster management agencies around the world. With this, agencies can access maps and space-based information through mechanisms set up by the global space community, including the International Charter – Space and Major Disasters, the Copernicus Emergency Management Service and Sentinel Asia. These mechanisms will allow authorized users to request and rapidly access satellite data collected from space agencies all over the world in addition to being able to download satellite imagery from open sources such as the Sentinel satellites. In the report, it is revealed that the UN-SPIDER is also providing advice on space technologies that can be used to monitor different types of natural hazards, products being developed by the space community for disaster management applications, links to satellite imagery sites, and information on software packages to process such imagery.  The system is seemingly improving how disaster managers reduce risks and build resilience globally. In Ghana, UN-SPIDER has been working with the country’s National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) since 2013. The organization’s workforce has received training to map the geographical and temporal evolution of floods and droughts. As a result, NADMO has become an authorized user of the International Charter – Space and Major Disasters, able to activate it at the request of national disaster management agencies in countries or regions affected, improving its capability to respond to disasters and in Ghana and the near regions.

Other incidences where NADMO has used its charter rights include;

  • The floods disaster in the rural regions and towns of Central African Republic in 2019 where NADMO collected satellite imagery that was used to create maps of the areas affected by the floods in Bangui and Kouango to support directing relief efforts.
  • The mapping of the impact of landslides in north-western Kenya, at the request of the Kenya Defense Forces.


Artificial Intelligence and Space Imagery

AI in Disaster Management

IFRC recognizes that humanitarians are improving how they make science-informed risk management decisions, courtesy of the availability and application of Earth Observation data. The organization reports on the possibilities of machine learning and neural networks which can employ artificial intelligence to find patterns and correct missing data. However, it identifies the challenges that remain in their development and application, including the inadequate principles to govern standardized data processing approaches which can lead to limitations in data accuracy, bias and responsibility.  In its Earth Observations for Humanitarian Action Partnership with NASA, IFRC is seeking to blend NASA’s satellite capabilities with its own early-action protocols and forecast-based financing work, using on-the-ground humanitarian knowledge to complement the information derived from satellites. With this opportunity, IFRC expects to map and develop data platforms & tools useful to specific contexts. It also hopes that users of this information can move past understanding past disasters and towards a better understanding of future thresholds of risk and opportunities for designing interventions before a disaster occurs.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.